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Improv:21: Wayne Horvitz: Approaching Training and Musical Heritage in Improvisation and Composition

Published April 15, 2009

Derk Richardson interviews composer and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, recorded at the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco on April 15, 2009, as part of the ROVA:Arts Improv 21 series of informances. Horvitz, who is as well known for his classical styled compositions as for his experimental jazz and avant-garde rock performances, discusses the social context of a variety of performance practices. He makes an eloquent argument for breaking down, or at least ignoring, the barriers between jazz and classical music, claiming the neither term adequately captures the nuances of current composing and performance techniques. While he admits that many of the great improvisers of the 1960s and 70s were essentially self taught musicians, and were perhaps unable to sight read a score, today’s improvisers often have a strong background in traditional musical education. Horvitz, who as a young man equally enjoyed the psychedelic music of the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, the jazz of John Coltrane, and Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” bristles at the trend to draw distinctions between jazz and classical composing, and the all too often misconception that a musician would only be knowledgeable about the type of music with which they are most identified with. Horvitz suggests that such assumptions may even be driven by racism, or at least promote economic inequality, as when ASCAP rewards predominately white concert composers at a higher rate than a black composer or performer who might include nontraditional elements such as an drum set or improvised solo into an otherwise scored full length opera. Horvitz peppers his comments with reviews of a recent book by George Lewis and stories about John Cage, including the famous avant-garde composer’s reputed ambivalence about improvisation despite the influence that essentially improvised African and Asian music had on his own works. While this is a highly informative discussion featuring a very erudite composer and performer, Horvitz never takes himself too seriously and thus avoids the stagnation so typical of a more academic discussion.

Run time 122 min
Producer ROVA:arts
Audio/Visual sound, color
Language English
Contact Information For more detailed program information and to browse other material in the Other Minds Archive visit:


This is unedited Rova Arts footage.


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on 4/14/2012